Communication and public engagement are key to helping the natural world, according to Sussex rewilding expert

A leading rewilding expert has encouraged researchers to combine data with ‘well told stories’ in order to successfully engage the public and make a difference to the natural world.

Dr Christopher Sandom , Senior Lecturer in Biology at the University of Sussex, speaks about the importance of communication and public engagement in a new episode of Impacted , a podcast series about research for real change presented by Will Hood and Suzanne Fisher-Murray.

Dr Sandom pays close attention to the ways in which he communicates his research findings, explaining that, while getting the science right is essential, there is also a need for well-told stories to engage members of the public.

As rewilding can be a controversial topic, Dr Sandom, a researcher within the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP), highlights the importance of talking with all groups affected by any potential land restoration plans. Awarded a NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellowship in 2015, Dr Sandom brought together a network of academics, farmers, policymakers, professional bodies and businesses to discuss the restoration of the British uplands; hilly mountainous areas found in England, Wales and Scotland.

The farmers that Dr Sandom met said that they found the constantly changing environmental policies and targets difficult to plan for, and this was something that he fed back to the government.

During the fellowship, he also fed back perceived obstacles to rewilding when interviewed for a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) note on Rewilding and Ecosystem services. He has since provided further evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee on the risks and opportunities of rewilding after Brexit.

But Dr Sandom believes that none of this would have been done without learning from stakeholders.

In a recent interdisciplinary project for the SSRP, Dr Sandom explored the role that large herbivores can play in conservation, community agriculture, rewilding and delivering ecosystem services in the South East of England replacing the role that other large herbivores, such as mammoths, would have played in the past He is working closely with sites such as the Ashdown Forest and the Knepp Estate, to develop land management strategies that deliver for both people and nature.

While a lot of conservation tends to be ‘doom and gloom’ according to Chris, he also believes that rewilding can offer an exciting solution. That optimism is something he tries to encourage among his students.

He said: “It’s my job as an educator and a lecturer to let my students know that what we are doing has had some success but ultimately we’re not achieving it. What they need to do is go way beyond anything that I can teach them; they need to innovate and come up with new ideas and new optimistic futures, and communicate those and test them out and find those solutions.

“That’s where I would like to be in the future - as a more innovative, more dynamic, more optimistic and more forward-focussed conservation sector that’s engrained into every part of our lives.

Despite spending a lot of time trying to understand the past, and the way the natural world used to look, Dr Sandom is firmly focused on improving the future.

Having recently started a community group called ‘Rewilding Sussex’, he is now working with students to help engage future generations with nature and encourage young minds to reimagine their relationship with nature.

He said: “I think there’s hope. We have to get excited about it, and we’ve got to get enthusiastic about it.”

Impacted episodes will be released every month and are available to listen to from: soundcloud.com/user-­931071968%20


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